I read about half as much nonfiction as I did fiction in 2015, yet narrowing down this list was hard, much harder than the fiction list was; it could easily have been twice as long. The first three titles were my favorites of 2015; everything after the jump is listed in alphabetical order.
Asking for It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture and What We Can Do about It by Kate Harding
Analyzing things like rape myths, sports culture, and law enforcement’s mishandling of various high-profile rape cases, Kate Harding takes a hard look at different components of contemporary rape culture and what we can do about it. It’s an important book that couldn’t come at a better time.
Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor by Lynda Barry
Barry teaches a class called Writing the Unthinkable, and this book is mostly a collection of her syllabi, lesson plans, and student work. Never has a book sparked so many creative ideas in me. I would give anything to take this class with her!
The Tastemakers: Why We’re Crazy for Cupcakes but Fed Up with Fondue by David Sax
There’s a reason why cupcake shops started popping up all over the place and bacon is king. There’s a reason why words like “superfoods” are probably in your vocabulary. David Sax explains the rise and fall of various food trends, going behind the scenes to talk to the tastemakers themselves. It’s really interesting!
The Beekeeper’s Lament by Hannah Nordhaus
Hannah Nordhaus teamed up with beekeeper John Mills to get a closer look at bees, beekeeping, and their agricultural impact. The end result is a surprisingly entertaining book. If bees disappear, we’re in trouble: bees are responsible for pollinating a lot of the agricultural products we eat; it would be impossible for human pollinators to keep up with the demand.
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Written as a letter to his adolescent son, Coates situates his own life experiences within a larger cultural framework in order to discuss race in America. It’s easy to see why Coates won a National Book Award for this work; the book makes a lot of powerful statements about the experiences of black people, especially black men.
Confessions of a Latter-Day Virgin by Nicole Hardy
I said this earlier this year when I reviewed the book and I’ll say it again: please ignore that horrible cover. Hardy was raised to be a faithful Mormon, but as she grew older, the messages of her faith were increasingly at odds with what she wanted for herself. The memoir is extremely well-written and grew out of a New York Times Modern Love essay.
Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo
This is a slim but intense memoir about growing up Native American in Oklahoma. Using a mix of narrative, poetry, and stream of consciousness, Harjo — now an award-winning poet and musician — recounts the various hardships she experiences as a child and young adult. I only regret not reading the book sooner.
The Initiates by Étienne Davodeau
This is a really lovely black and white graphic memoir about two artists. A few years ago, artist Ètienne Davodeau approached vintner Richard Leroy so that the two could learn about each other’s work. Davodeau stayed with Leroy to learn about winemaking, and Leroy was introduced to the comic world.
The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander
Following the sudden death of her husband, Elizabeth Alexander is lost in grief. In this memoir, she explores their relationship and family life, as well as tight knit friendships that she and her husband took pains to cultivate. Her writing is poetic and gorgeous.
The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert and Didier Lefèvre
Didier Lefèvre was hired to document a dangerous Doctors Without Borders journey into Afghanistan. Using a mixture of illustrations and Lefèvre’s photographs, Emmanuel Guibert recreates an account of the journey. The effect is powerful.